Add this to the list of superlatives for Election 2016: With less than one week to go, the first presidential debate is drawing comparisons to the Super Bowl. Viewership of the last Super Bowl hit 112 million, but with the debate stakes set high and the pre-game drama at a fever pitch, we can expect next week’s clash to turn out at least as many meme-able moments as a Beyoncé half-time show.
But given the pace of our news media cycle, anyone planning to talk back to the debate and create those memes should do a little prep work. At The LAMP, video remix is our favorite medium, so we’re partnering our free MediaBreaker/Studios remix tool and Break the Election program with Letters to the Next President 2.0 and SpinTime.TV to encourage young people to remix and respond to viral video clips from the current election campaigns.
To help remixers young and not-so-young alike, I attended the Paley Center for Media last week for As the Nation Decides: Why the Presidential Debates Matter, a panel discussion featuring Errol Louis of NY1, Republican consultant Ed Rollins, Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas, CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter and Amanda Terkel of The Huffington Post. Here are three things the experts said viewers should watch for on Monday:
1: Fireworks will start early.
“The beginning of the debate is more important than ever, because that’s when most people tune in,” said Terkel. “Reporters are writing their stories – to be honest, not to reveal any industry secrets, much of our story is written by the end of the debate.” Candidates and moderators know this (or should: Terkel went on to provide an example from 2012 in which Ben Smith from Buzzfeed published a story declaring Mitt Romney won his first debate with Barack Obama – before the debate was even finished). The moderators will likely front-load the debate with their most burning questions, and the candidates will want to land jabs, zingers and catch phrases sooner than later.
Remixers and bloggers should: Start formulating, planning and editing early in the debate. (But do at least let the whole thing play out before publishing.)
2: Look out for body language.
Salinas cited a story from The Atlantic that suggested people turn off the sound. “That’s who you can tell who is the person that you’re going to vote for,” she said. “Are they going to be angry? Are they going to be posed? Are they going to be calm?” Rollins also pointed out that Donald Trump weighs 236 pounds at 6 feet and 3 inches tall, making him a huge physical presence compared to Hillary Clinton, who is thought to be around seven inches shorter. Each will attempt to own the stage, but Trump will need to be careful in how he approaches Clinton. His posture and any hint of physical threatening could speak volumes to female voters in particular.
Remixers and bloggers should: Utilize the visuals of the debate stage and the candidates when deconstructing the message. What you see is every bit as important as what you hear.
3: The fact-checking might not be obvious.
“The Commission [on Presidential Debates] looks not so fondly on this idea of fact-checking in real time,” said Stelter. He went on:
“They have indicated over the years that they prefer for the moderators to stay in the middle and not be fact-checking…A lot of what the candidates say, as Politifact demonstrates and others, are things that are half true, shades of true, mostly untrue. They’re not all ‘pants on fire’ lies. When they are, I think that’s when the moderator is going to be under tremendous pressure to speak up. But speaking up doesn’t have to be a fact-check. It can also be a follow-up. That’s what I’m predicting we’re going to see from [Lester] Holt and others: follow-up questions that frame it with facts and challenge the candidate to adhere to the facts.”
Remixers and bloggers should: Keep an eye during the debate on sites like Politifact, which work hard to fact check in real time on social media. Just because the moderator doesn’t step in to interrupt a candidate with a fact-check, it doesn’t mean he or she is telling the unvarnished truth. Also, as Stelter suggests, look out for follow-up questions that may be fact-checks in disguise.